Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual news conference on the ongoing situation with the coronavirus disease, at Downing Street, London, September 9, 2020. Stefan Rousseau/Pool via REUTERS

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions on social gatherings in England on Wednesday (September 9), saying there was a clear need to act after a spike in Covid-19 infections.

Speaking at a televised news conference, flanked by his top medical advisers, Johnson said groups of more than six people would be banned from meeting, in what he called a “rule of six” that was easier to understand than previous guidance.

“I wish that we did not have to take this step, but as your prime minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives,” he said, stressing that police and other agencies would be enforcing the rules more actively.

“I will be absolutely clear. This is not, these measures are not, another national lockdown. The whole point is to avoid a second national lockdown,” he added.

“But, as your prime minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives.”

There will be exceptions to the new six-person limit, which will come into force on Monday in England only, including for large families, workplaces, weddings and funerals.

In another change, venues such as pubs and restaurants will be obliged to request visitors’ details to allow contact tracing if necessary. Previously, they were only advised to.

Opening times could also be restricted, although for now this will only be in areas already subject to specific restrictions because of local flare-ups.

Johnson said that checks on people arriving from countries on the government’s quarantine list would also be stepped up.

‘Moonshot’ testing plan

The Prime Minister, who is known for his optimism, did not repeat his previous suggestion that life could be back to normal by Christmas.

But he outlined a “moonshot” plan to allow millions of people to be tested every day to allow those without coronavirus to circulate freely.

“We are hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring and, if everything comes together, it may be possible even for challenging sectors like theatres to have life much closer to normal before Christmas,” he said.

A trial will be launched next month in Salford, northwest England, although he acknowledged “numerous logistical challenges” adding: “We’re not there yet.”

Johnson, who himself spent a week in hospital with coronavirus, has faced criticism for his approach throughout the outbreak, accused of introducing the lockdown too late and then lifting it too early.

The new testing goal is likely to raise eyebrows as the government is already struggling to meet soaring demand for tests.

Documents seen by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggest the new programme could cost an eye-watering £100 billion.

Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BMJ the plans bore the hallmark of a government “whose ambition far exceeds its ability to deliver”. (Agencies)

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